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This is a response to Joseph Massad’s “Theses on Zionism” in Electronic Intifada on December 9, 2013.
In pre-modern times, Jews lived in separate communities, governed by their religious authorities, with corporate rights and obligations, determined by royal or aristocratic authority. The Enlightenment and emancipation ended the subjugation of west European Jews to Judaic authorities, and to gentile regulation. Jews were admitted, gradually but inevitably, to full citizenship in their states of residence, equal to their fellow citizens. The US was created on a modern, liberal basis, with no trace of pre-modern Jewish status. Anti-semitism existed but liberalism was the prevailing trend before World War I. In modern terms, Jews became a religious minority, or secular citizens. Jews embraced modernity whole-heartedly. Western Jews became some of its leading proponents; east European Jews emigrated by the million from oppressed, traditional societies to the US.
Zionism was a response not only to anti-Semitism but to liberal modernity. Zionism opposed the assimilation and integration of Jews, and held that anti-Semitism was irrevocable and natural. “The Jews comprise a distinctive element among the nations under which they dwell, and as such can neither assimilate nor be readily digested by any nation.” We “must give up contending against these hostile impulses [anti-Semitism].” Resistance is “a waste of time and energy.” “The civil and political emancipation of the Jews is not sufficient to raise them in the estimation of the peoples.” “The proper, the only solution, is in the creation of a Jewish nationality, of a people living upon its own soil, the auto-emancipation of the Jews; their return to the ranks of the nations by the acquisition of a Jewish homeland.” (Leon Pinsker, Auto-emancipation)
Zionism adopted anti-Semitic ideas and tactics and cooperated with anti-Semites practically. Herzl frequented anti-Semitic salons in Paris, and sought Russian czarist support for Zionism with Ottoman Turkey in return for silencing Russian Jewish protest. After the October, 1917 Russian revolution Zionism presented itself to the western powers as Jewish anti-Bolshevism. In the Russian civil war Zionists allied with anti-Semitic White forces who committed pogroms when they lost to the Bolsheviks. In 1933 the Zionist movement broke the promising Jewish-led boycott of Nazi Germany with the Transfer Agreement, which sold German exports through Palestine. Zionism opposed relief for Jews on humanitarian grounds because it detracted from Zionist national aims in Palestine. Zionism was an elite project of national renewal, concerned with “the problems of Judaism, not the problems of Jewry,” in Ahad Ha’am’s words.
The Zionist claims of a historical Jewish people, attached to the “land of Israel,” and of modern “secular Jewish identity” are utterly untenable. Zionist racialism dates to the proto-Zionism of Moses Hess; the chauvinism of Heinrich Graetz contributed to German anti-Semitism; German Zionism was Jewish Romantic nationalism, embracing Jewish Blut und Boden. Theodor Herzl was steeped in the racism of European colonialism. Nazi and Zionist “race experts” consulted each other in the 1930s. Elmer Berger, an anti-Zionist rabbi, co-authored the 1977 UN resolution on Zionism as a form of racism. “Jewish genetics” tries to build a biological basis for Zionism. Zionism’s fundamental opposition is not Jewish settler vs Arab indigene in Palestine, but Jew vs gentile everywhere. Historian Noel Ignatiev called Zionism Jewish race doctrine.
There is no “progressive Zionism.” The leaders of “cultural Zionism” supported immigration and a Jewish majority. Zionist “culture” is founded on irreducible Jewish difference, separatism, alienation, and anti-gentilism, the counterpart of racialist anti-Semitism. The binationalists wanted Jewish immigration leading to demographic parity and eventually majority, when Jews were a minority. The kibbutz was an instrument of exclusive Ashkenazi Jewish settlement in Palestine, and was inspired by 19th c. German plans to counter a Polish “demographic threat” in the eastern Reich. Hitler might have conquered the Near East; the Judeocide happened because of Nazi Germany, not because there was no Jewish state. Israeli Hebrew ethnicity or nationality, secular and open to all, is the liberal replacement for Zionist Jewish nationality,
The classical left and liberal traditions descended from the Enlightenment and emancipation rejected Zionism categorically. American Reform Judaism once stated: “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and, therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor… the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.” Marxism upheld the international solidarity of the working class, viewed nationalism as reactionary, and Zionism as a colonial movement and tool of imperialism. The Yiddish labor movements in the Russian Empire and their immigrant offshoots also opposed Zionism. The late Israel Shahak referred to the “modern, secular Jewish tradition,” which he traced from Spinoza, who began the remarkable Jewish contribution to modernity. Shahak viewed Zionism as a reaction against emancipation, and a longing for the ghetto.
Zionism was a marginal cult among western Jews until World War I. The Balfour Declaration and the British conquest of Palestine raised interest but it subsided, reviving only with the advent of Nazism. US Jews supported overwhelmingly the establishment of Israel in 1948, but liberal attitudes prevailed into the early 1960s. The success of liberalism and assimilation led to a “continuity crisis,” an effort to maintain separatism that was fatally supercharged by the June, 1967 war. Organized Jewry became and remains fanatically chauvinist, insular and pro-Israel. “The Holocaust” became an institution and part of Jewish identity, including classic Zionist dogma about irrevocable, murderous anti-Semitism. The organized Jewish communities and the Jewish state have constituted the Zionist Jewish people. The Volk has replaced liberalism as the Jewish social principle; the modern period of Jewish history has ended.
The organized Jewish community is the core of US support for Israel, the “Zionocracy,” after the 19th c. “Slaveocracy” that wielded immense power until the Civil War. The Zionocracy has exercised quasi-sovereign influence on US foreign policy since the 1940s, when it secured US support for partition of Palestine and the Jewish state, against overwhelming military and diplomatic opposition. Israel’s “strategic value” during the later Cold War is mostly Zionist public relations. In the 1960s the Zionocracy concealed Israel’s nuclear weapons program, secured arms sales, and US support for Israel in 1967, against warnings by many US officials. The October, 1973 war and resulting oil price increases were the biggest shock to the world economy since 1945. The Carter Administration sought a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict but the Zionocracy limited Carter’s diplomacy to a separate Egypt-Israel peace. Israel and the Zionocracy then opposed Iraq and supported Iran during their war in 1980s.
Zionism has been the chief ideological driver of US militarism since the end of the Cold War. The congressional vote for the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq was the closest since the War of 1812, and the Zionocracy may have tipped the scales. The “dual containment” of Iran and Iraq in the 1990s was by and for the Zionocracy, over substantial business opposition. The 9/11 attacks, which led to the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the destruction of civil liberties, were directed mainly against US patronage of Israel. The Zionocracy is the main source of Islamophobia in the US. The Jewish neoconservatives were the prime movers in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. This greatly increased Iranian influence and escalated its antagonism with Saudi Arabia, and led to the present dissolution of Syria. The US has restarted diplomacy with Iran but the Zionocracy has passed overwhelmingly in the House and has majority sponsorship in the Senate for legislation that will destroy the opening and restore the war drive.
Left and liberal Jewish opinion since 1967 has been as völkisch as the mainstream. Israel was not an issue for the Jewish members of the American New Left in the early 1960s, who sought to build a universalist movement. The New Left shattered in the late 1960s over internal differences, including attitudes toward Israel, after the June 1967 war. A “Jewish left” arose, which purported to combine Jewish commitment with social justice, including some criticism of Israel. Today a loose school of Jewish identity politics centered on Noam Chomsky imposes on the left terms of “anti-occupation”, “law and rights,” “solutions,” “progressive Zionism,” “Israel as US strategic asset,” and “anti-anti-Semitism”. This circumscribed critique conceals the US Zionocracy and Zionism itself, in contrast to the classical liberalism of the Enlightenment and emancipation, which rejected Zionism categorically. The modern period of Jewish history has ended on the left also.
A universalist critique would oppose Zionism, not “the occupation”; recognize Zionism as Jewish racialism, opposing Jew and gentile everywhere; acknowledge Zionism as the ideological driver of genocide and destruction in western Asia, and the source of Jewish chauvinism and separatism
in the US; reject the Zionist idea of “the Jewish people” in whose name the state of Israel and organized Jewry act; condemn the role of US organized Jewry and the Zionocracy as a quasi-sovereign, radicalizing force in US Middle East policy; and defend a secular realm in which we think and act together. It would do this in the name of the people of Jewish background who contributed so much to modernity, from Spinoza onward, whose legacy towers over Zionism. The failure to do this is catastrophic, comparable to the German Communist Party’s disastrous misreading of Hitler and Nazism, which weakened the left and assisted their rise to power, and all that followed.
Harry Clark’s article “The End of Modern Jewish History,” which expands on these issues, will appear in Left Curve, No. 38, forthcoming in April. He may be reached at his web site http://questionofpalestine.net